The first treatment decision prompted by Parasite Watch for Alan Smellie near Peebles was to do nothing at all. On account of the mild wet winter and good number of ewes spending time on known high fluke risk ground, his 1,200 ewes were tested for liver fluke before lambing.
"Of course, it's great to save money by avoiding unnecessary medicine use," says Alan. "But more important still is knowing that treatment wasn't needed."
This illustrates perfectly Alan’s reasons for becoming a Parasite Watch farm in the first place. Rather than dosing by the calendar - whether for roundworms, Nematodirus or fluke - he is eager to give treatments only when they are justified.
Last year before joining the programme, he carried out post-treatment tests to assess wormer efficacy, and will repeat the exercise this summer. "We need to know which medicines are fully effective and any that are not," he explains. "It's not something you can guess or judge by eye."
Overall, Alan is looking for three main gains from Parasite Watch:
1) Healthy ewes and lambs, high productivity, low mortality, good welfare.
2) Efficient and cost-effective use of medicines when they are justified, and a good return on investment as a result.
3) Surveillance and early warning of a decline in efficacy of wormers and flukicides against the threat of parasites.
The flock comprises a breeding group of 400 Scottish Blackface ewes bred to Blueface Leicester tups, producing Greyface Mule ewe lambs. Alongside 800 Greyface Mule ewes, which are bred to Suffolk and Texel tups, producing finished lambs mostly sold on a deadweight basis. "The kill-sheets tell you a lot about the lambs you've just sent," says Alan.
This is another example of taking information and turning it into intelligence on which to base good decisions. Clearly, Alan exemplifies this in practice. For sheep farmers everywhere, this is what Parasite Watch aims to help create: Evidence-based decisions about what to treat, when to do it, and when not to. This localised early warning system uses 15 farm-based intelligence hotspots.
Diagnostic samples are being taken on each farm and from these, real time information is available to farmers about challenges in their local area from four key parasite types:
– Gastrointestinal worms – regular faecal egg counts (FECs) and growth rate monitoring to check for the onset of parasitic gastroenteritis.
– Nematodirus – regular FECs, weather data and other sources to give an indication of disease risk on sentinel farms.
– Liver Fluke – using risk and weather data, coupled with regular sampling on Parasite Watch farms, to provide early notice of predictable threats.
– Flies – data from Parasite Watch farms to prompt early warnings, possibly before they are noticeable around livestock, that fly populations are multiplying quickly.
Overall, the aim of Parasite Watch is to promote timely decisions by farmers in conjunction with their SQP animal health adviser or vet. The data collection process is led by Zoetis vets, who also provide commentary and early warnings of parasite outbreaks and advice on challenges that could threaten sheep wellbeing and productivity.
By using FECs, data on gastrointestinal worms and Nematodirus are collected fortnightly. Liver fluke levels are assessed every quarter, and fly populations every week. New data is supplied regularly to the farming press and published online to give intelligence-based snapshots of parasite outbreaks across the UK.
In addition to data, Alan and his fellow Parasite Watch farmers have also agreed to share their observations on Twitter via @Sheep_Farmers. Our aim is to create a resource of real-world and real-time sheep farming information that can help improve health and welfare decisions, and sheep enterprise productivity.
For further information, please contact Zoetis UK Ltd, Walton Oaks, Dorking Road, Walton on the Hill, Tadworth, Surrey, KT20 7NS. Customer Support 0845 3008034. www.zoetis.co.uk. Always seek the advice of your medicines provider. Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible).